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To say that COVID-19 has up-ended the movie industry in 2020 would be a gross understatement. Studios kept shuffling release dates for even the year’s biggest films (e.g., Tenet, No Time to Die), movie theaters effectively shut down because sitting in a room with a bunch of people for hours on end makes no sense in a pandemic, and perhaps most importantly of all, movie studios turned to streaming in a very big way (e.g., Disney’s releasing Mulan and Soul straight to Disney+ or Warner Bros.’ decision to release some of 2021’s biggest movies straight to HBO Max).
Suffice to say, how we watch movies has changed in a very big way — though I’d argue that 2020 and beyond is really the culmination of a trend that began long ago, as people grew increasingly dissatisfied with the theatergoing experience. (Why pay $60+ for tickets and snacks so my family can walk on sticky floors and sit in uncomfortable chairs beside people gawking at their phones?)
Will movie theaters come back? I certainly hope so, because there is something special and immersive about the theater experience (sticky floors and all) that can’t be replicated, even on a big 4K TV. There is a wonderfully intangible aspect to sitting in the dark with strangers and sharing a communal cinematic experience. (Assuming they’re not on their phones, of course.) But it may still be another year, if not longer, before life returns to some semblance of normalcy with the aid of vaccines. Even then, I suspect that theaters will face an uphill battle in proving their value and worth to millions of people who’ve grown content with watching Hollywood’s latest blockbusters from the comfort of their living room.
At the same time, I wonder what the diminished presence of the (American, anyway) box office will do, long term, to Hollywood budgets? Will fewer big budget spectacles be greenlit, even as the Marvel Cinematic Universe prepares to enter Phase Four? Will the box offices of other countries who were actually able to deal with the pandemic begin to influence Hollywood, similar to how the Chinese market has affected films ranging from Monster Hunter to Top Gun: Maverick? Will we see smaller, more diverse films? Or will studios, hoping to turn a dollar during uncertain times, stick with the tried and true and churn out even more sequels and remakes?
Time will tell, of course. In the meantime, let’s look ahead to 2021 with some cautious optimism, as the year promises a true variety of cinematic delights, from a clash between cinema’s greatest titans to Arthurian legend, from ambitious sci-fi to Nicolas Cage at his Nicolas Cage-iest.
Nobody by Ilya Naishuller (Feb 26)
If you would’ve asked me who would be cast as the lead in an action thriller about a former assassin who returns to his violent ways when his family is threatened, Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul, Mr. Show with Bob and David) would’ve been very low on my list. But I have to say, he looks pretty great here. It doesn’t hurt that Nobody was written by one of the creators of the John Wick franchise; there’s a very John Wick-ish vibe at work here. Of course, it could easily be nothing more than ultra-violent revenge porn, but consider me interested so far.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent by Tom Gormican (Mar 19)
Now this is a premise for a movie: “Nicolas Cage begrudgingly accepts a $1 million offer to attend the birthday of a Mexican billionaire super fan. When things take a wild turn, Nic is forced to become a version of some of his most iconic and beloved characters in order to extricate his wife and daughter from the fan who is a notorious drug lord.” A Nicolas Cage movie where Nicolas Cage has to be at his Nicolas Cage-iest?! Yes, please.
No Time to Die by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Apr 2)
The final James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig as 007 was originally supposed to come out in April 2020, and then the pandemic happened. Directed by True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga, No Time to Die finds a retired Bond trying to track down a missing scientist, a mission that — surprise! — finds him in the sights of an evil terrorist played by Rami Malek as well as butting heads with the new 007.
Last Night in Soho by Edgar Wright (Apr 23)
A new Edgar Wright film is always cause for celebration ’round these parts. His latest finds a young woman transported to the 1960s, where she meets her idol. But she soon finds herself caught up in strange, terrifying phenomena. Last Night in Soho stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, and late, great Diana Rigg in her final film performance.
Black Widow by Cate Shortland (May 7)
The Avengers’ redoubtable secret agent finally gets her own movie, which kicks off “Phase Four” of the MCU. Set immediately after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Widow finds Natasha Romanoff confronting a conspiracy from her past and reuniting with former comrades from her time in Russia. Black Widow also stars Rachel Weisz, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and William Hurt.
Free Guy by Shawn Levy (May 21)
Guy (Ryan Reynolds) lives a pretty ordinary life, except for all of the explosions, gunfire, and bank robberies, that is. As it turns out, Guy is actually a hapless NPC in the popular Free City video game. When he starts to question his existence, his growing self-awareness leads him to fight to save his world before Free City’s developers can shut it down. Reynolds seems perfect for this film, which is sure to be filled with referential and meta humor, and he’s joined by Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, and Taika Waititi.
Godzilla vs. Kong by Adam Wingard (May 21)
To be clear, this isn’t the first time that Godzilla and King Kong have faced each other on the big screen (see 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla). The latest film in Legendary’s “MonsterVerse” finds the biggest movie stars of all time preparing for the inevitable beatdown. Meanwhile, the secretive Monarch organization races to find the truth behind the existence of Godzilla, King Kong, and the rest of the so-called Titans. Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, and Zhang Ziyi reprise their roles alongside Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, and Shun Oguri.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife by Jason Reitman (Jun 11)
Yes, yes, yes… the previous Ghostbusters movie was a bit of a dud despite its awesome cast. By all appearances, though, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is doing its best to pretend that Paul Feig’s reboot never happened. Instead, Afterlife follows a couple of kids who, upon moving to an Oklahoma farm, discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters. The surviving original Ghostbusters stars (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts) are joined by Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, and J. K. Simmons.
Luca by Enrico Casarosa (Jun 18)
Pixar’s next film is a coming-of-age story set in a seaside town on the Italian Riviera. There, a young boy makes a bizarre discovery about his new best friend: he’s actually sea monster from an underwater world. The film will be directed by Enrico Casarosa, whose directorial debut was the delightful La Luna short; he’s also worked on several other Pixar features, including Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2, Up, and Ratatouille.
Top Gun: Maverick by Joseph Kosinski (Jul 2)
Tom Cruise returns to one of his most iconic roles: hotshot fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. But he’s no longer the young, upstart pup that he was back in 1986. Plot details have been scarce, but Maverick will apparently find his relevance as a pilot challenged by the increasing use of fighter drones. Furthermore, he’ll have to contend with the son of his former best friend Goose (RIP), now himself a Navy pilot. Starring alongside Cruise will be Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, and Val Kilmer, who’ll reprise his role as Iceman.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings by Destin Daniel Cretton (Jul 9)
I like that “Phase Four” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t afraid to get a little weird. Case in point: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which focuses on the titular martial artist (played by Simu Liu) and his battle with the Ten Rings terrorist organization. And speaking of the Ten Rings, whoever decided to cast Tony Leung as the Mandarin, they deserve a raise or two. Leung is one of the world’s greatest actors, best known for his collaborations with Wong Kar-wai (e.g., In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express), and I can’t wait to see what he does in the MCU.
The Green Knight by David Lowery (Jul 30)
Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander star in this re-telling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the most famous and well-known stories in the Arthurian canon. Patel plays King Arthur’s headstrong nephew Sir Gawain, who embarks on an epic journey to challenge the Green Knight. Director David Lowery’s previous films include the acclaimed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story and based on the trailer above, his take on Arthurian legend is going to a pretty intense one, indeed.
Jungle Cruise by Jaume Collet-Serra (Jul 30)
Following the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Disney has opted to turn another one of their theme park rides into a movie. Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt as a river boat captain and the scientist who hires him for a dangerous jungle expedition to find the fabled Tree of Life. I’m honestly intrigued in this one only because of Johnson’s involvement; his natural charisma is one of the main reasons behind the Jumanji franchise’s success, and I’m hoping for a similar vibe with this movie.
The Suicide Squad by James Gunn (Aug 6)
After James Gunn was bumped from the director’s chair of Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3 due to an online witch hunt, DC snapped him up to direct a “soft” reboot of 2016’s Suicide Squad. Several of the original Suicide Squad cast members are returning (e.g., Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis) plus a bunch of new ones, including John Cena, Idris Elba, Nathan Fillion, and Taika Waititi. With a cast like that, plus Gunn’s promise of a hard R-rating, I think we can expect some Grade A cinematic insanity.
Dune by Denis Villeneuve (Oct 1)
Denis Villeneuve has already directed two of the best sci-fi films of the last ten years: 2016’s Arrival and 2017’s Blade Runner 2049. But for his third sci-fi film, he tackles one of the greatest and most acclaimed sci-fi novels of all time, Frank Herbert’s Dune. Dune is about as epic as sci-fi gets, and also about as mystical, as a young nobleman in the distant future arrives on a desert planet and finds himself drawn to the strange culture there. The trailer makes it clear that Villeneuve’s adaptation is aiming to be pretty epic itself, and the movie boasts a truly impressive cast, including Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, Jason Momoa, and Charlotte Rampling.
Snake Eyes by Robert Schwentke (Oct 22)
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the previous G.I. Joe films — 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation — were absolute garbage. I mean, just complete and total rubbish. So why am I listing another G.I. Joe film here? Because it centers on the greatest, coolest, most iconic Joe of them all: Snake Eyes. The film stars Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding as the titular ninja commando (which may cause some fans to cry foul since Snake Eyes is a blond white guy in the comics), Samara Weaving as Scarlett (Snake Eyes’ paramour, and a pretty iconic Joe in her own right), and The Raid’s Iko Uwais as Snake Eyes’ martial arts mentor, the Hard Master. No word yet on whether Snake Eyes’ wolf, Timber, will make an appearance, but one can always hope.
Eternals by Chloé Zhao (Nov 5)
Speaking of Marvel’s “Phase Four” getting weird, I’m still kind of blown away that they’re making a film about the Eternals, an offshoot of humanity that was created by the genetic experiments of the Celestials, a race of ancient, nigh-omnipotent space gods. The Eternals, who do their best to blend in with the rest of humanity, are locked in a never-ending struggle with the monstrous Deviants, another Celestials-created offshoot of humanity. Eternals will be directed by Chloé Zhao and stars Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, and Kit Harington as the Black Knight. There’s a lot of potential for the MCU to get bizarre with Eternals, and I hope it does.
Mission: Impossible 7 by Christopher McQuarrie (Nov 19)
The Mission: Impossible franchise has produced some of the best Hollywood action movies in recent history, due in large part to the film’s international jet-set appeal and Tom Cruise’s willingness to risk his own life in increasingly outrageous stunts. Cruise will be joined by the usual faces (Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) as well as some new ones (Hayley Atwell, Pom Klementieff). While no plot details have been released, the seventh(!) Mission: Impossible film will be the first of a two-parter, with both films being shot back-to-back by director Christopher McQuarrie. The eighth Mission: Impossible film will (presumably) be released some time in 2022.
Untitled Spider-Man: Far From Home sequel by Jon Watts (Dec 17)
It appears as if the latest live-action Spider-Man movie is taking a page from Into the Spider-verse’s multiversal playbook. In addition to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, it looks like we’ll be seeing appearances by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s takes on the ol’ Webslinger. Kirsten Dunst and Emma Stone are also set to appear, and most intriguingly of all, Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2, arguably one of the best antagonists of any Marvel film.
The Matrix 4 by Lana Wachowski (Dec 22)
Even as recently as 2018, there were rumors that Warner Bros. was planning to reboot and relaunch the Matrix franchise with the aid of writer Zak Penn and star Michael B. Jordan. But apparently, that’s a different Matrix project from this one. So far, no plot details have been announced for the fourth proper Matrix movie, but Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss are returning, presumably as Neo and Trinity (though sadly, no Morpheus or Agent Smith this time). The film will be written and directed by Lana Wachowski and will presumably feature plenty of mind-blowing special effects and cinematography (especially if you consider the technical advancements that have occurred since the original trilogy).
BigBug by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (TBD)
There was a time when the name Jean-Pierre Jeunet was synonymous with dazzling, fantastical filmmaking, thanks to films like Amélie and The City of Lost Children. But it’s been over a decade since his last feature, 2009’s Micmacs. Jeunet’s newest films is about a group of suburbanites who become trapped when their household robots lock them up for their own safety during an android uprising. BigBug will be released via Netflix.
The French Dispatch by Wes Anderson (TBD)
The French Dispatch has been described as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city.” Yep, it’s another Wes Anderson movie. The film will feature three different storylines, and populating the storylines will be the usual list of Anderson collaborators, including Anjelica Huston, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, and of course, Bill Murray.
Next Goal Wins by Taika Waititi (TBD)
Taika Waititi directs this movie about the true story of Dutch coach Thomas Rongen (played by Michael Fassbender) who tries to turn American Samoa’s national soccer team into a squad that can qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Waititi is an extremely versatile director with a great sense of style and comedy, so this could be a fun, inspirational flick. Next Goal Wins also stars Elisabeth Moss and Armie Hammer.
No Sudden Move by Steven Soderbergh (TBD)
A Steven Soderbergh crime caper starring Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Hamm, and David Harbour? Yes, please. Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven is a favorite ’round these parts, so if he’s returning to that sort of material with No Sudden Move (which was formerly titled Kill Switch), then we’ll definitely be looking forward to this one.
Three Thousand Years of Longing by George Miller (TBD)
When George Miller, the man behind Mad Max: Fury Road, describes his next movie as “epic in scope,” then you’d best believe him — though don’t expect another Fury Road-type film. Tilda Swinton plays a British woman who unleashes a Djinn (presumably played by Idris Elba) and becomes captivated by his fanciful stories. Miller’s been working on the film’s story for the last 15 years, though filming only began last month.